Back injuries are a common problem in the workplace. When discussing ways to prevent back injuries, the key thing to remember is that these problems are much easier to avoid than to fix once the damage is done. Today’s blog offers a few best practices to help avoid injury and reduce lost productivity.
Make it easy by using the right equipment
Whenever possible, reduce or eliminate the manual handling of materials. Can these same tasks be accomplished with the use of a mechanical aid? These can include cranes, hoists, lift tables, dollies, carts, hand trucks, and forklifts. When using mechanical aids, be sure your workers know these safety rules-of-thumb:
- Make sure the equipment selected is appropriate to the task and inspect it before putting it to use.
- When stacking a load, place the heaviest items on the bottom and keep the weight concentrated between the wheels.
- When necessary, secure the load with tie-down straps
- When using equipment such as dollies, push the load instead of pulling – this gives the operator more control and greater leverage.
- Never allow the use of a forklift or other lifting aids unless the worker has received all necessary training and are authorized by your management to do so.
Arrange your space
Whenever possible, arrange work environments so they are “back friendly.” The safest lifting zone is between an individual’s shoulders and waist because it eliminates the need for reaching or bending. When storing objects on shelves, the heaviest objects should be placed at this “middle” height, with higher and lower shelves reserved to store objects that weigh less.
Loads should not be put down on the floor. Use a table or elevated surface instead to eliminate the need to reach down.
Stretch it out
It’s a good idea to stretch before doing any lifting. This gets the muscles warmed up for the work ahead and helps prevent painful strains and sprains. Workers who do a lot of lifting throughout the day should also take short “micro-breaks.” It’s a chance to rest the back and to do additional stretches that keep the muscles loose.
Sit and stand up straight like mom always said
Posture plays a big role in back safety. When people get into the habit of using poor posture, it becomes difficult to sense when the body is aligned properly. A simple exercise or test can help regain a “feel” for proper alignment. Have your workers give this a try, perhaps at your next scheduled safety meeting:
- Stand with the back of your head, your shoulder blades, and your buttocks touching a wall.
- Place your feet so that your heels are about 4 to 6 inches away from the wall.
- Now slide your hand, with the palm flat against the wall, behind the curve in your lower back.
When posture is aligned, the space between your back and the wall should be about the thickness of your hand. If there’s too much space, tighten your abdominal muscles so that the curve in your lower back is flatter. If there’s too little space, give your hand more room by arching your back.
Once you’ve achieved a good “fit” for your hand, step away from the wall while trying to maintain this posture. This new posture may feel unnatural at first, but it will become easier with practice. From time to time, it’s a good idea to use the wall test to recheck your posture.
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